One full year ago, the awesome Jersey Devil Press published this flash fiction of mine. I decided to reprint it here to celebrate the occasion. Hope you enjoy!
The purple monkey hugs my kneecap with his armpit. Squashed into my front is the yellow dinosaur, her spinal ridges prickling my belly every time she shifts. The blue elephant’s hindquarters press against my ear, which is unpleasant, but not as much as the child’s face flattened against the glass.
From my vantage point atop the pile, I watch as the small human points and taps and slides its hands across the window with covetous delight. It leaves prints fossilized in some wet, pink substance, as if moments ago it had dipped its hooks into a bucket of strawberry jam. What a waste of fingers. So many things the child could do with its flexibility, those joints and thumbs — thumbs! — but instead it sticks them in jam and smears them across everything as if the world were its bread.
The child rubs its face through the mess, sliding down so its nose pulls up into a nostril-flaring, porcine snout. I glance at the polka-dotted pig nestled against my teddy bear shoulder, and imperceptibly to the human she frowns at the likeness.
It’s been a long time since someone visited our glass enclave. With the flashing lights, neon colors, and chirping, whooping sounds of the other games, the arcade-goers had left us in peace. Such stability gave me time to get to know my neighbors, especially the pig.
She’s an observant one. In lush detail she described the factory she came from, the others she met on the bumping trip over, how between assembly line and truck the blue sky swelled above her like a balloon the instant before the pop. She would make up funny stories about the humans that walked by, or embellish what she saw for those too buried to know the difference, and I would laugh at how outlandish she was. Sometimes I’d wake in the dark and, when she didn’t think anyone was listening, I’d hear her humming sweetly to herself. During business hours, while the others lazed about, the pig and I would talk and talk, and somehow I could sense that it wasn’t the cramped space that made her hear me, but that she really, truly wanted to.
She looks at me, I look at her, and then together we wince at the squat human that has resorted to banging its fists.
A taller one appears, its flowery cardigan the only part visible through the window. It takes the child’s hand, inspects the filth, then rummages through its purse. It whips out a tissue and wraps it around each grubby finger, digs jam out of the pits in between. The child shrieks and we wince again at the stitch-splitting noise while it yanks and strains at its parent’s grasp. At first I’d considered its face a minor annoyance, but now I can’t help feeling unnerved by its mounting, contorting greed.
The parent finishes, but still the child slams its slightly drier fists against our window until my threads feel ready to burst. Dragging the small human proves fruitless for the tall one, and its torso sags with a sigh. It folds the tissue over to an unsullied spot, wipes its own hands and unzips a purse. The silver gleams in the arcade glow as the parent passes over a quarter.
Howls of glee replace the screams, but they sound no less malicious. The coin clanks through the machine and a bright light flicks on, hurting my lidless eyes. It’s been so long since I’ve heard that sprightly tune of the game starting that I forgot what it sounded like. The claw above us jolts into life as the child rips the joystick back and forth.
Nobody wants to go with this monster. Just imagine what it would do when it got one of us in its devilish digits. I can tell this creature has ripped apart a few toys in its time. Yet there is nowhere to escape. Glass packs us in on all sides, plush shoves against plush. Those buried below give hushed thanks for their safety and for once I wish the pig and I didn’t have this viewpoint atop the pile. My belly stuffing clenches, and my friend the pig whimpers and huddles closer around my shoulder. The child peers through the window, mouth open and forming a jellyfish of fog upon the glass as it deliberates. If it takes too long, the game will shut down, and we all pray for indecisiveness and a coinless purse.
But the human does decide, and with a fangy grin it lowers the claw.
The pincers snap together around the tail of a green shark, but her flaccid fins slip through.
Two more tries.
The neck of a red horse feels the metallic clutches next, but he’s wedged too snugly amongst his brethren.
One more try.
The claw comes down over the polka-dotted pig. It pinches her ear. Tight.
No! Of anyone here, not this one, not her! She trembles like a dew drop, fighting to unlock herself as she ascends. With all the strength my teddy bear stuffing can summon, I reach to her. She reaches back.
Closer . . .
Closer . . .
Just a little bit more . . .
Yes! Our limbs touch!
But, unlike the humans, neither of us has fingers. Nothing to latch onto, nothing with which to grip. Only soft, rounded, plush-filled stumps.
The claw freights her up, drops her down the chute into the child’s talons, which clamp onto her with dexterous might. Her deep black eyes watch mine as she and her captor retreat, getting smaller and smaller, further and further, until I can no longer see my friend the pig as the throng of people fills that ever-widening canyon of space.
For the first time in ages my shoulder touches air, and it is cold.